Chef Ryan Clift from Tippling Club, Open Door Policy, and Open Farm Community chats with us about farm-to-table dining, gluten-free food and Singapore’s food scene
Step on the grounds of Open Farm Community, and you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled onto a tiny slice of the countryside – a rarity in our concrete jungle. If you’re lucky, you may even spot some roosters running about in the restaurant’s own edible garden; currently home to 175 different kinds of plants, all of these go into creating OFC’s dishes. The man behind this ambitious farm-fresh concept? The whip-smart Ryan Clift, also of Tippling Club and Open Door Policy fame. In light of our Live Better month, Chef Ryan generously agreed to have a chat with us about his favourite go-to healthy recipe, the importance of eating local, and why his love for food could possibly kill him someday.
Hi Chef Ryan. What is your personal philosophy of ‘living better’?
For me, it’s about eating fresher and cleaner. Anything that can be local is key. If you know where your food comes from, you can live a lot healthier knowing that the food is not having a massive carbon footprint on the environment. Anything you can get that is within a hundred kilometres of your restaurant means that you’re supporting local farmers, you’re reducing your carbon footprint, and at the same time, it’s better for you.
What are some of the most challenging plants to grow organically?
Obviously, we have a different climate here in Singapore, so it’s challenging to grow more Western-style vegetables. But what does thrive here in Singapore are all the herbs, flowers, greens and leaves which are loaded with natural antioxidants. I would love to be able to grow baby carrots, turnips, radishes and beetroot, but those are challenging. Yet, what we can’t grow here, we source within a few hundred kilometres from here. We’re still keeping it local in that sense.
What initially attracted you to the farm-fresh dining concept?
Purely frustration, and I don’t like to rest on my laurels. Being in Singapore and knowing that everything is imported frustrates me. It has taken a long time to get to this stage. For me, as a chef, I’m used to being able to phone up a farmer about a wild ingredient I need, and having that relationship with the land. It’s not just about putting some plants in the ground and growing them and using them on the plate.
That’s essentially what the ethos of Open Farm Community is – making everybody realise that all these plants can grow; you just gotta put some effort and time into it. Everyone complains that Singapore has such a terrible land mass – that’s bollocks. We have so much land here in Singapore that’s under-utilised. I’m open to sharing what we’ve done here at Open Farm Community with everyone else; we want to get a movement going.
Do you think it’s starting to catch on?
So now we work with Edible Gardens, and they’re doing a great job. They’re working with a lot of people and more restaurants. It’s good that Michelin star chefs in Singapore are meeting Edible Gardens and realising that it’s far better than anything you can import. What Edible Gardens is doing is immediate – it’s still in soil, it’s all growing, and you can snip it yourself. That’s way better than anything you can get in a plastic container sent from France.
You’ve recently introduced a new brunch menu for Open Door Policy. What advice would you give someone who’s sceptical about gluten-free and dairy-free food?
People immediately presume that it’s gonna have less flavour and going to taste boring, like salad. They have this image in their head. But we spent nine months working on a menu that really encompasses everything you should get, even after removing flour, dairy, sugar and salt. The key point is that what we make tastes the same, if not better, because we put that much effort into making it taste that way – we just remove the components that makes you sick. I mean, I’m gluten-intolerant, dairy-intolerant, but that’s not why I did that. It’s more… why can’t I do that?
How do you juggle your time between all your restaurants here?
Again, I’m very fortunate to have really talented and professional-minded chefs working for me, and it’s not by chance. I hand-selected these guys to work for me, but realistically, I’m mostly based at Tippling Club – my baby, pride and joy.
You mentioned your dietary restrictions. Do they hinder you in the kitchen? And how do you overcome it?
Personally? I take a lot of pills. You can’t avoid it. I’m chronically ill all the time because of it, but that’s my passion; it’s my life unfortunately [laughs]. I have to create these things that you must experience first-hand, so in a way, I’m killing myself on a daily basis to cook for people, and to make other people happy. Do you just not serve what you’re intolerant to at your restaurant? I can say I’m intolerant to foie gras, but I have foie gras on my menu. Thankfully, I also have my guys running all my kitchens, so I do rely on them too.
What would be your personal favourite dish from your menu at OFC?
Any of the pastas. We make all our pastas fresh here every day, and we have a beautiful pasta machine at the back; nothing is out of the packet. My favourite is the red curry mud crab dish – it’s served with spaghettoni, fresh crab meat, beautiful Thai red curry sauce, pickled radish, pickled turnips and fresh coriander, Thai basil, and fresh coconut. It tastes like a Thai dish, but it’s essentially fusion.
We’re currently having our Live Better month. Could you share with our readers any go-to recipes that they can whip up at home?
My favourite recipe at the moment – and we serve it at OFC, ODP and even Tippling Club – is a simple watercress soup. It’s just watercress, water, potato, olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Take a litre of water with about 300 grams of potato, and slice the potato really thinly (obviously, you peel it first.) Put the potato in the water together with a generous pinch of salt
- Bring the water to a boil. As it starts to boil, what happens is you extract all the starch and flavour out of the potato into the water
- Put a pan on the stove, and give it a generous splash of some good-quality extra virgin olive oil
- Take about 500 grams of watercress and cut all the thick stems off
- Get the oil really hot so there’s almost a bit of smoke coming out from the oil. Throw in the watercress and it’ll sizzle and fry. Stir it all really quickly with a spoon, then dump all the water and all the potato as it boils up really quickly
- Pour the whole thing straight into a blender and you’ll get the most vibrant, iridescent, luminous green watercress puree. but it’s the most intense-tasting soup
You moved back to Singapore in 2008. What are some of your favourite local dishes?
I can eat chilli crab and pepper crab, and that’s it. One of my other issues is that I can’t take heavy spices. For years, I never had chilli. But when I first moved to Singapore in 2008, we would go to Long Beach and I eventually tried the chilli crab, and I was like, “It’s not even spicy”. I’ve been missing out, so now I’m mentally making up for it. I eat at Long Beach like once a week; they all know me [laughs].
What else do you love about Singapore besides chilli crab?
I like the fact that Singapore is a very transient city, in the sense that there’re so many cultures here. As a chef, it’s amazing that I can go to a hawker centre and practically eat in nine different countries in an afternoon if I want to. That’s the beauty of Singapore – you just can’t get bored of eating in this country.
Open Farm Community, 130E Minden Road, Singapore 248819, p. 6471 0306. Open Mon-Fri 12pm-4pm/6pm-10pm, Sat – Sun/PH 11am-4pm/6pm-10pm.